Advertisers "discover" a whole bunch of problems you didn't know you had

They’ve been doing it since 1922.


Just in case you’re becoming a wee bit jaded about unemployment, higher taxes, the sequester, $4-a-gallon gas prices again, food-price inflation, shrinking household income and/or global warming, advertisers are coming up with new things for you to worry about.

These include everything from invisible stains to aging hair, Advertising Age reported March 5.

New “problems,” old tactic

While these “problems” you didn’t know you had may be new, the tactic of using such maladies to sell products that “solve” them isn’t.

As far back as 1922, Lambert Pharmaceuticals unearthed an obscure, Latinate medical term to reposition their all-purpose antiseptic as a mouthwash.

“It is simply unbelievable,” a 1922 Listerine ad says,

how many women – supposedly nice, fastidious women – are suffering from halitosis and utterly ignorant of the fact…Be the first to suspect yourself of having halitosis (bad breath). So many everyday concerns cause it that it is folly for any one [sic] to assume complete freedom from it. [original emphasis]

In a large, two-line subhead, running all the way across the bottom, the  ad concludes, “Halitosis is a daily threat…end it with THE SAFE ANTISEPTIC Listerine” [original emphasis, ellipsis and capitalization].

Of course, today’s consumers are too sophisticated to fall for a Latin word lifted out of an obscure medical textbook. So today’s more sophisticated advertisers have turned to real, bona fide laboratories to come up with new things to plague us with (and make a case for buying their products):

Stress sweat – A German research lab’s findings, sponsored by Procter & Gamble and presented at this year’s American Academy of Dermatology meeting, show that there’s a difference between everyday “hot sweat” and what they call “stress sweat.” Hot sweat – the kind that antiperspirant manufacturers test for by putting people in hot rooms, comes from the eccrine glands. But stress sweat, which the Germans tested for by  subjecting people to public speaking or mental math, comes from the apocrine glands and comprises 20 percent fat and other “nutrients” which harbor bacteria that make it smellier. But not to worry: P&G’s new Secret Clinical Strength Antiperspirant contains a patented Secret Ingredient that fights stress sweat four times better than non-clinical strength antiperspirants.

Ugly armpits – Unilever research has uncovered the earthshaking fact that women, leading otherwise  idyllic lives, worry about their armpits being ugly. On the basis of this major scientific finding, they launched Dove Go Sleeveless in 2011 in the US, followed by Dove Ultimate White, which claims to reduce under-arm dark spots, in the Philippines and Dove Pure, which keeps armpits “healthy-looking” because it contains no parabens (whatever they are) in Australia.

Invisible stains – According to just about every dictionary definition (e.g., “a colored patch or dirty mark that is difficult to remove”), a stain is, by its very nature, visible. So the very idea of an invisible stain is as oxymoronic as a tall midget or democratic socialism. But that didn’t deter the makers of Wisk detergent. Lab tests, they claim, show that clothes have more “invisible stains” from body oil and sweat (no word on whether that’s “hot sweat,” “stress sweat” or both) than visible stains (a tautology). “Discovering this and finding how compelling it is for consumers is pretty exciting,” said marketing director Lora Van Velsor. Online videos for Wisk reformulated for “deep down clean” which show “jars and buckets of goo to depict body oil and sweat residue left in clothes by other detergents” have attracted more than two million YouTube views and a New York Times story calling this campaign “the biggest scam since bottled water.”

Aging skin – “[A] new testing methodology which helped us better understand how existing anti-aging technology helps improve the appearance of damage caused by environmental assaults” led to the launch of Estee Lauder Advanced Repair Eye Serum, according to senior VP-global marketing Charisse Ford.

Aging hair – Based on “clinical data from more than 1,000 women,” Procter & Gamble says it’s applying “anti-aging” to its new Pantene Age Defy Shampoo, Conditioner, Masque and Thickening Treatment to fight the seven deadly signs of hair aging – breakage, split ends, frizz, unruly grays, lackluster color, thin look, and dryness.

More anguish to come

“Everyone is looking to consumer research for ideas,” beauty-industry consultant Suzanne Grayson warns. “It’s desperation time. Even companies that never were heavy into research, like the upscale department-store brands, are using it, looking for kernels of disappointment [they] can latch onto.”

So if you’re among the fortunate few who somehow managed to escape the ravages of stress sweat, ugly armpits, invisible stains, aging hair or aging skin, don’t get too smug about it. Advertisers and their research labs are working 24/7 to uncover more woes to afflict you with.